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ClassicsOnline Home » SMALDONE, E.: Rituals: Sacred and Profane (D. Phillips, Ritt, Talujon Percussion Quartet, New York New Music Ensemble, Florilegium Chamber Choir)
Ritual, craft and emotion are aspects of deep concern for composer Edward Smaldone (b. 1956). The contrasting array of colors and ensembles on this collection of works composed between 1984 and 2002 is unified by a musical voice that offers layers of meaning, careful technique and rich emotional reward. These works are calculated to ‘speak’ on first hearing, and speak more with each subsequent visit.
Edward Smaldone (b. 1956)
Rituals: Sacred and Profane • Suite for Violin and Piano
Three Episodes for Percussion Quartet • Diptych
Magnificat and Nunc dimittis • A Certain Slant of Light
Edward Smaldone was born in 1956. He studied composition with George Perle, Ralph Shapey, Henry Weinberg and Hugo Weisgall, receiving BA and MA degrees from Queens College and a Ph.D. in composition from the CUNY Graduate Center. Smaldone’s music has received honors and awards from Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the American Music Center, the Charles Ives Center for American Music, and he is the recipient of the Goddard Lieberson Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His music is recorded on New World, CRI and Capstone labels. He is a former President of the League of Composers/I.S.C.M. and he is a Professor of Music (joining the faculty in 1990) and the Director (since 2002) of the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College.
Smaldone’s music has been performed by the Munich Radio Orchestra, the Denver Chamber Orchestra, the Memphis Symphony, the Queens Symphony Orchestra, Peabody Camerata, Oberlin New Music Ensemble, University of Chicago Chamber Players, the Duquesne Contemporary Ensemble, Stony Brook Contemporary Ensemble, The League/ISCM Players, Da Capo Chamber Ensemble, and many other ensembles throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. In addition to the outstanding performers collected on this recording, his music has been played by Michael Boriskin, Abraham Stockman, Marcy Rosen, Eric Bartlett, Richard Markson, Benjamin Hall, Mindy Kaufmann, Charles Neidich, David Jolley, Curtis Macomber, Andre Emelianoff, and Tara O’Connor, among many others.
An active composer for the dance, Smaldone arranged music by and attributed to Pergolesi which has been performed world wide by Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project. Other dance collaborations have been with the Hartford Ballet, Jacob’s Pillow and with the dancer-choreographer Yin Mei. He is a co-author of the fifth edition of A New Approach to Sightsinging, W.W. Norton, 2011.
Writing a review of his 2000 CRI CD, Robert Carl noted that Smaldone is “creating a synthesis that is harmonious and yet diverse, backed up by very impressive technique.”
The compositions on this recording collect six works that cover a broad expanse of genres and intentions, all of which are captured in the title. They range from the quiet abstract intimacy of the solo guitar (Diptych) to the overt religious/ritual sentiments of a traditional work that could be performed as part of a church service (Magnificat and Nunc dimittis). In between these extremes are chamber and solo pieces for violin and piano (Suite for violin and piano): percussion ensemble (Three Episodes for Percussion Quartet); solo organ (A Certain Slant of Light) and mixed ensemble (Rituals: Sacred and Profane, flute, cello and piano). In every case, the music reflects in some way upon the idea of ritual as a motivating, and organizing feature.
Ritual plays a significant (if often unrecognized) rôle in everyday life. It is present in countless seemingly unimportant things we habitually do the same way each day, or the rituals of work, family, friends, religion etc. that cycle through our lives with the passing days, weeks, seasons and years. Some of these are “sacred” to us because of their intrinsic meaning, some are prescribed by deeply held beliefs and cultural traditions, but the essence of a ritual is an act that is repeated because it has meaning.
Composed in 1994 for Canadian violinist Victor Schultz, the Suite for violin and piano is in three movements. The first movement opens with a brilliant cadenza for the violin, which gives way to more emotionally controlled material once the piano enters. There follows a a lyrical, singing section in the middle, which is then followed by re-workings of the “controlled” material, followed by a recap of the cadenza. This emotional roller-coaster is thus organized within the tightly controlled structure of a palindrome. The second movement, Invocation, is an emotional Adagio that traces a single minded path from the violin’s middle register to a high F sharp with which the movement concludes, floating that note like a plaintive siren above the piano for the last 45 seconds of the movement. The final movement, Stephane’s Dance, is a rollicking dance evoking the rhythmic drive of American Jazz (and the spirit of Stéphane Grappelli).
Three Episodes for Percussion Quartet was composed for the Talujon Percussion Ensemble, and is dedicated to them and to the composer’s son, Gregory, whose birth coincided with the creation of this piece (1992). The piece casts two outer movements of quiet, prose-like gestures that are in some ways the antithesis of percussion music. These outer movements rarely display the steady beat and “groove” one comes to expect from so many scores for the modern percussion ensemble. The “tunes,” phrasing, gestures and harmony are asymmetrical and lyrical. The middle movement succumbs to the temptations of rhythmic drive, but retains much of the asymmetry and lyricism of the outer movements. The piece was a prize winner in the 1994 Percussive Arts Society Composition Competition.
The central work of this collection, Rituals: Sacred and Profane embodies the abstract idea of repetition as a guiding principle of compositional organization (this is, of course, nothing new.) It was composed in 1996 for the Faculty Trio of Temple University, who gave the first performance in Philadelphia. The impetus for the piece began with the specific idea of using ritual as the central component. What constitutes a “sacred” interpretation and what is “profane” immediately presented themselves as disparate labels for potentially the same thing. The piece uses a fragment of a famous Christmas hymn, twisted and recast (ritualistically) to a point beyond recognition. In the end, the “sacredness” or “profanity” of the gestures was far less meaningful that their shared aspect of ritual.
The two movements of Diptych, preludio and dansa, composed in 1984, occupy very different points on the emotional spectrum. The prelude is based on a single 5 against 2 rhythm that is wrapped around a slowly moving three-part harmonic texture. It is an intimate, quiet and lyrical series of musical phrases that does not hurry to make its point and ends quietly. The second movement is cast in a simple ABA form, with the middle section focused on an elaborate use of natural and artificial harmonics, which adds to the many distinct and beautiful tone colors of this more exuberant movement. The movement ends quietly with a cadence that includes several of these natural harmonics.
The Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis is the most traditionally cast of the works on this CD. The texts are the Church of England standard texts, that have been set in English (and many other languages) by composers too numerous to mention. The work was composed for the University Choir of University College, Chichester, England, in 2001. The American première was in 2003 with the Florilegium Chamber Choir at the German Church in New York City. In the manner typical of the Church of England, the music quickly changes direction in response to the texts in a single large statement (in contrast to the Bach Magnificat in which individual lines are divided into discrete movements.)
A Certain Slant of Light takes its title from a poem by Emily Dickinson. In the poem Dickinson evokes “a certain slant of light” that “oppresses, like the weight of cathedral tunes.” This rhapsodic piece alternates between the “oppressive” weight of the full organ sound and more intimate gestures that might seem to float “weightless.” The final pages, however, are a fugue with a subject drawn from the previous musical material. The final gesture contains the power and “weight” most often associated with the mighty (oppressive?) tradition of cathedral tunes. Light and weight are thus juxtaposed in sound as they are in Dickenson’s poem. The work was composed for Jan-Piet Knijff and first performed by him in the Czech Republic in 2002.
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SMALDONE, E.: Rituals: Sacred and Profane (D. Phil...